The German translation company we work with did translate the sentence

Operating the machine without following the manual may harm the machine, the environment and you.


Der Betrieb ohne Beachtung des Handbuchs kann Maschine, Umwelt und Sie selbst schädigen.

We told them to squeeze the sentences and if necessary to use headlines sentences because of the limited text space on the safety labels.

Maschine and Umwelt in this sentence are used without articles and it sounds very irritating to me when I read it. Does this sentence sound OK to you in terms of headlines? Is the omission of articles in German headline sentences in general applicable?

  • 2
    Neither the German nor the English sentence sound like a headline to me. Do you mean something like telegraphic style?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 13:48
  • 4
    For a safety label, this is perfectly OK. You could even leave out the initial article.
    – tofro
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 13:48
  • 1
    @Wrzlprmft I mean the language used in warning and safety messages etc. The OP answering my question here did use the term "headlinese" at the time and it got stuck in my head since then. You can correct it if you can think of a better term. writers.stackexchange.com/questions/22144/…
    – Montag451
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 13:52
  • 3
    @Wrzlprmft ich verstehe sehr wohl warum es Montag451 an Schlagzeilen erinnert: "Mann mit Kapuze bedroht Vierzehnjährige!"
    – Ludi
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 22:14
  • 1
    Handbuch missachten gefärhdet … or Wer das Handbuch missachtet, gefährdet Maschine, Umwelt und sich selbst! or Sie gefährden Maschine, Umwelt und sich selbst, wenn Sie das Handbuch missachten!
    – Crissov
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 22:17

2 Answers 2


Der Betrieb ohne Beachtung des Handbuchs kann Maschine, Umwelt und Sie selbst schädigen.

This is totally fine. I'd even say putting the articles in there makes it harder to read.

  • 1
    Inwiefern würde es mit Artikeln schwieriger? Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 16:06
  • If you want to stress how serious the injury to machine, environment and youself are you'd add the articles for emphasis. But you don't need the articles in order to understand the sentence. So it would be redundant and unexpected information. You'd have to parse the articles and figure out if this is a separate sentence or a part of the enumeration Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 13:32
  • The whole idea of the text is to transfer unexpected information. I still don't see any harm or difficulty for understanding in using articles. Articles are of the most simple and most common parts the language. Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 3:51

Like English, German has three types of articles:

  • definite articles

    • in English: the (for all genders, both numbers and all cases)
    • in German: der, die, das, des, dem, den (depending on the combination of grammatical gender, number and case)

      The sky is blue.
      Der Himmel ist blau.

  • indefinite articles

    • in English: a, an (depending on the pronunciation of the following word, but only for singular)
    • in German: ein, eine, eines, einem, einen, einer (depending on the combination of gender and case, but also only for singular)

      A car is approaching.
      Ein Auto kommt näher.

  • the null article

    • this is just another way to say "there is no article". When you explicitly want to mark a null article, you sometimes use the symbol "ø":

      ø Walter drinks coffee.
      ø Walter trinkt Kaffee.

The sentence from your example is:

Der1 Betrieb ohne ø2 Beachtung des3 Handbuchs kann ø4 Maschine, ø5 Umwelt und Sie selbst schädigen.

So here we have five articles in this sentence, two are definite articles (1 and 3) and three are null-articles (2, 4 and 5).

1 has to be a definite article, because we are talking about a certain usage/operation. This is exactly the same rule as in English. We are talking about "the operation", not about "an operation".

2 can be any of the three types. When selecting a non-null-article you have to select the right one according to gender, number and case. Here we have a female word in singular and accusative case. So it could be:

Der Betrieb ohne die Beachtung des Handbuchs.
Der Betrieb ohne eine Beachtung des Handbuchs.
Der Betrieb ohne ø Beachtung des Handbuchs.

Here in this case all three sentences mean the same and all three of them are correct. Just the second with the infinite article is bad style. All three mean the same because Beachtung (paying attention or following) is an abstract noun, which means, that there is only one Beachtung (you very rarely are talking about two or more Beachtungen), and so, when you talk about Beachtung, you are always talking about the same thing. So it makes no difference, if you say "die Beachtung" or just "ø Beachtung". "Eine Beachtung" would mean just any Beachtung, but since there is just one Beachtung, this is bad style.

In 3 you need an article to mark the genitive case. Without an article (i.e. when using the null article) or a pronoun you can't build the genitive case. But you still have the choice between definite and indefinite article:

... Beachtung des Handbuchs ... (definite article)
... Beachtung eines Handbuchs ... (indefinite article)

it is exactly:

... following the manual ... (definite article)
... following a manual ... (indefinite article)

Here we are talking about a certain manual, so we use the definite article.

4 and 5 are part of a list (together with "Sie selbst"), and as a rule of thumb you should use the same type of article for all members (but there might be reasons for not following this rule). "Sie selbst" (yourself) can't have an article, because it is not a noun, so this is a hint for not using any articles in the list. If you replace "Sie selbst" by a noun then I would prefer articles:

Der Betrieb ohne Beachtung des Handbuchs kann die Maschine, die Umwelt und das Personal schädigen.

The version with null-articles is also ok, but sounds a little bit incomplete to me. But as just said, it is ok too:

Der Betrieb ohne Beachtung des Handbuchs kann Maschine, Umwelt und Personal schädigen.

Using an indefinite article is not recommended here, because Umwelt (environment) is a singularetantum, i.e. a word that has no plural. There is only one Umwelt, and it is not abstract. If it was abstract, you could think of an indefinite article. This would be correct, but bad style. But Umwelt is not abstract. You can see it and you can touch it (at least parts of it). And for this reason you can not use an indefinite article. Only the definite article is possible, or the null article.

(The english word for Umwelt is environment, and there is a plural for environment in English which is environments like in: "The environments of those systems are different." If you use it this way, then "Umgebung" is the matching German word. This is the next environment. But "Umwelt" is everything that surrounds us, so there is only one Umwelt, but there can be many Umgebungen. But both is "environment" in English.)

It is thinkable, that we are not talking about a certain machine, but about just any machine. In this case you might use the indefinite article here. This is a case, where you can violate the rule of thumb I told you before:

Der Betrieb ohne Beachtung des Handbuchs kann eine Maschine, die Umwelt und Sie selbst schädigen.

But mixing the types of articles within a list is not very fine (although allowed), so you better find another solution.

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